Final preparations for the Oetztaler Cycle Marathon

By Cycling Dad:

Only three days to go until the first main event of the season – the Oetztaler Cycle Marathon! Up until around two weeks ago, training took up most of my available time next to job and family. In July, I spent roughly 18-20 hours per week in the saddle, which kept me from blogging as much as I originally planned. Alex and I took turns in looking after the kids. Once I got home, she went out for her training – or vice versa. Since getting back on the bike post-partum, she spent roughly as much time as me on the road. It is a bit difficult, but manageable somehow. I also will have to keep this post short, as either one of the kids seems to be constantly coming up with a new issue. When I started this post two hours ago, Konstantin was pushing his toy excavator across the keyboard. Right now he is in his bed, (still) screaming at the top of his lungs, defying sleep… thanks for bearing with me… Anyways, the main training is done and all that’s left to do is final preparations. Time for a quick recap.

Since the beginning of the season, I cycled around 8,500k and climbed a cumulative 72,000m in altitude gain. As part of the preparation, I raced in Moerbisch, Feldbach, Bad Kleinkirchheim, Berlin, Mondsee and Hohenems (the last two race reports are still missing due to the above mentioned obstacle…). While distance and altitude gain increased from event to event, I could equally feel my fitness increasing. I managed to finish the last event, the ‘Highlander’ Cycle Marathon in Hohenems with 187k and 4000m alt gain in 7 hours and 41 minutes as 289th out of 589 starters, still feeling okay in the end.

On August 8th, the entire Team Alpecin met at Radlabor in Frankfurt for a second performance diagnostics. Three weeks before the Oetztaler, we wanted to find out how much the training over the summer had improved our performance potential. One by one, we took to the SRM ergometer and completed the threshold test. Here’s me closing in on max power:

Without going too much into the details, the long endurance miles paid off – I should be able to tackle all climbs of the Oetztaler with a 230 watt average load. In theory, this should give me a chance to finish the distance below ten hours – but the weather forecast is not too good and a lot of things can happen along the way.

If you are interested to follow my progress online this Sunday, August 25th on the Oetztaler Cycle Marathon – you can sign up for an SMS alert service on the website – just click on the red button “Starting List” and yet again in the next window the red button “SMS Service”. My bib number will be 556.

As a kind reminder – I am running a fundraiser for the SOS children’s village in Hinterbrühl near Vienna, Austria. Your donations will be used to build three new houses, where abandoned children will be able to grow up in a loving family environment. A big thank you goes to all my supporters. Here’s the link to the donation site:

Performance Diagnostics | Functional Threshold Test at Radlabor Munich

By Cycling Dad:

Earlier this year, I hit jackpot as I was selected to become one of the amateur riders to the 2013 Team Alpecin. Part of the team package is a professional performance diagnosis and training plan from Radlabor (the Cycling Lab). Radlabor is a spin-off from the University of Freiburg’s sports faculty, which offers diagnostics and coaching for recreational, amateur and professional cyclists, and a key partner of Team Alpecin. They operate testing facilities in Freiburg, Frankfurt and Munich.

With the help of science, my training for the remaining three months should become much more effective. Unfortunately, I am a bit late to take the test due to professional and family obligations, but in the end a more structured training should help me get through the Oetztaler Cycle Marathon and Endura Alpentraum with at least some less suffering…

So on May 10th I took a day trip to visit Sophie Fleischer at the Munich lab. Sophie was already looking forward to punching my ears with needles for the lactate test.

Here is an inside look at the Radlabor’s Munich testing facility. It is compact in size, but everything you need to push yourself over the lactate threshold is there, including a top-notch SRM ergometer.

What happens during a performance diagnosis?

Testing procedures may vary between testing locations and athletes tested. However, what happens essentially is that someone puts you on a stationary bike and asks you to pedal at a rate of around 90 to 100 revolutions per minute. She then increases the resistance – in this case every three minutes. Resistance is measured in watts per hour, and increased in increments of 20 watts. At the end of every resistance level, a small blood sample is taken and analysed for lactic acid, which is a chemical compound produced by the body from breaking down glucose for releasing power to the muscle tissues. It is a complex process and I have to point to specific resources for explaining the details. However, when lactate is produced faster than the tissues can remove it, the lactate concentration in the blood begins to rise. Sports scientists use the lactic acid concentration as an indicator of fatigue in the athlete’s body. The so-called lactate threshold marks the level up to which an athlete can metabolise the lactic acid that is created under effort while it is produced. Beyond the lactate threshold, lactic acid starts to accumulate, which leads to fatigue and eventually forces the body to recovery. It will let you know gently, once you reach that point…

What does a performance diagnostic look like? Well, it’s not pretty. Send the kids out of the room before you watch the following video ;) .

Here is what the results look like: Radlabor Leistungsdiagnostik (click to download PDF). You receive a detailed report, outlining all the data from the threshold test. Unfortunately this document is in German, but Iet me summarise the most important information.

The following chart shows, by column: effort (watts), relative effort (watts per kilogram body weight), heart rate, lactic acid concentration, energy consumption per hour.

Upon applying cycling-specific calculations from sports research, my functional threshold was at 207 watts (2.5 watts per kilo) and a heart rate of 144 beats per minute. The diagnosis software estimated that my maximum rate of oxygen metabolisation is 4.7 litres per minute, which puts my relative VO2max per minute and kilogram body weight at circa 57 millilitres. My maximum effort was 360 watts, but I could only keep this for around 90 seconds. This places me among the top 25% of all athletes tested in my age group on Radlabor’s testing software Ergonizer - across all sports disciplines. Sounds quite good, but when looking specifically at cyclists, my results place me in the 15% percentile. This means that 85% of all cyclists who completed the test have a higher anaerobic threshold per kilogram body weight. I console myself by the thought that performance diagnosis today still is used to a large extend by professional athletes. It is okay to be better than only  15% of the pros ;) . MTN Qhubeka’s Gerald Ciolek for example managed to average roughly 400 watts over almost 12 minutes on the Cipressa Climb of Milan-San Remo 2013, for which I will admire him eternally. Also, in the same race Gerald achieved a mind-boggling 1386 watt effort on his race-winning sprint, while the test in Munich pegs me at roughly 625 watts maximum sprinting potential. For more details, check out this interesting post.

Back to the test. From the results, individual training heart rate zones can be derived. These will be important when drafting the athlete’s training plan. Based on my results, mine are: (KB = Active Recovery, GA1 = Endurance, GA2 = Tempo, EB = Threshold – the second column is effort in watts and the third refers to the heart rate zones)

Here’s another interesting graph from the report, showing the lactic acid build-up over time (lower-hand black line) in relation to the effort spent (x-axis) and the heart rate (y-axis).

At 206.5 watts, I reached my (anaerobic) lactate threshold at roughly 59% of my maximum sustained effort 350 watts. As Sophie explained to me, with appropriate training I should be able to delay the buildup of lactic acid up to 80% of my maximum effort, which would give me roughly 280 watts before reaching the lactate threshold. This is the recipe for significantly improving performance in the long-distance marathons.

Shortly after I returned to Vienna, Team Alpecin trainer Tim Böhme from Radlabor Frankfurt called me up to discuss my personal training plan. Based on the results of the threshold test and my personal time constraints, he assembled a training plan which contains a lot of long-distance endurance rides in June and some interval sessions, which will gradually increase in July as we move closer to the main events Oetztaler Cycle Marathon and Endura Alpentraum. The training plan is online (screenshot above) and requires me to feed back my training information at least on a weekly basis. From the heart rate information collected, the system calculates time spent in the different training zones and presents the results in summary overviews. According to this information and personal feedback, adjustments will be made by Tim. Also, there is an option to conduct another test in August to evaluate progress made and determine the perfect pace for both races.

Perfect preparation for the marathons to come!